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LAFCO gives highest priority to CWA and healthcare district MSRs

Joe Naiman

Village News Reporter

A municipal service review evaluates services and anticipated needs of a public agency. It is a prerequisite for a jurisdictional change other than annexation of land within the sphere of influence, which determines the boundaries best served by a particular agency, and San Diego County’s Local Agency Formation Commission also periodically conducts sphere of influence updates for all cities and special districts. The Aug. 7 LAFCO meeting included a revision of LAFCO’s Fiscal Year 2023-24 workplan to give the highest municipal service review priorities to the San Diego County Water Authority and to the county’s four healthcare districts.

A 7-1 vote, with San Diego City Council member Stephen Whitburn opposed, moved the MSR for the SDCWA from 14th to first on the priority list while moving back the 13 projects which had been a higher priority and moved the MSR for the healthcare districts from eighth to second while moving back six projects.

“Times change and priorities change,” said County Supervisor Jim Desmond, who is the LAFCO chair.

The May 1 LAFCO meeting adopted a 2023-24 workplan and budget for LAFCO. The five highest priorities were all administrative and involve personnel, training of new commissioners and software. The next-highest priority is a sphere of influence for the Oceanside region which will review the City of Oceanside, the Oceanside Small Craft Harbor District and the Morro Hills Community Services District. A review of the Carlsbad region covering the City of Carlsbad, the Carlsbad Municipal Water District and the Leucadia Wastewater District was the other task originally placed higher than the healthcare districts study.

“There is a reason we prioritized items the way we did,” Whitburn said.

On July 10 LAFCO voted 5-3 to approve the reorganization in which the Fallbrook Public Utility District and the Rainbow Municipal Water District detach from the SDCWA and annex to the Eastern Municipal Water District (the reorganization is contingent upon FPUD and Rainbow voter approval). LAFCO began its FPUD and Rainbow reorganization hearing June 5 before continuing the issue. During both hearings, the operational practices of the CWA were addressed. A July 10 motion calling for a municipal service review of the CWA was withdrawn after it was noted that such an action was not on the July 10 agenda and would need to be noticed for a subsequent LAFCO meeting.

Oceanside mayor Esther Sanchez addressed both the healthcare district and the CWA during the Aug. 7 hearing. “What’s good for the Water Authority is higher demand for water, and what we have now is less,” she said.

The CWA opposition to the FPUD and Rainbow detachment focused on the cost to the other 22 CWA agencies should the fixed cost revenue received from FPUD and Rainbow be eliminated. The CWA’s fixed cost charges include the Infrastructure Access Charge which is per meter equivalent and also include the Customer Service Charge, Supply Reliability Charge and Storage Charge whose member agency pro-rata shares are based on rolling averages. The City of Oceanside recently completed an indirect potable reuse project and is interested in increasing the capacity of its potable reuse program. The potable reuse program will reduce Oceanside’s demand for CWA water by 50%.

“That’s a drop in the bucket for the City of San Diego,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez was born in Oceanside before Tri-City Hospital opened and remembers her mother taking her to other towns for medical care, so she told the LAFCO board about the importance of local healthcare access.

After local government experience with the Encinitas City Council and the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, Kristin Gaspar became the Senior Director of Government Affairs for Palomar Health in March 2021. “California hospitals are really hurting,” she said. “This is a time of absolute crisis for hospitals.”

Gaspar noted that approximately 60% of California’s hospitals had operating losses last year and 12 hospitals have filed for bankruptcy within the past six months. “There is more than ample justification,” she said of giving the MSR for healthcare districts a higher priority.

Although LAFCO may take some action based on the municipal service reviews, those will also include recommendations for the CWA and the healthcare districts. “They can follow them or not,” Desmond said.


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